Posts tagged Koran

My Spring of 1994 Reflections of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan

Eighteen years ago I was hitting my stride as an English teacher and Fulbright Scholar at a university in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.  I had made foreign friends and also friends with the native Kyrgyz people and those who were Russian but born in Kyrgyzstan.  The following is what I wrote on March 27, 1994 to family and friends back in the U.S.

“Yesterday was a good day at the sauna.  I usually go every Saturday morning from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. with Olga, Lena, Natasha and other Russian women.  We sit and sweat, then jump into a cold pool, then sip on tea and repeat the cycle about five times in two hours.  My friend Olga and her husband Andrey have two daughters under the age of four.  As I was leaving the sauna I thought of my 50 minute walk back home and was favoring my one foot because I had developed a blister on the way TO the sauna.  There was Olga with her husband, in their car and since I live close by, they offered me a ride home…

Yesterday afternoon I went to a meeting with other westerners who gather monthly.  There was a Russian guest speaker who talked for an hour and a half about working with the Kyrgyz people and how the Bible was translated into Kyrgyz. He said that the Muslims became aware this was going on so they got someone to translate the Koran for them. Somehow the man who was working on the Koran got interested in doing the Old Testament and eventually became a hunted man.

When educated Kyrgyz would make comparisons with the Bible and the Koran, they valued the words in the Bible. The remarkable stories of the perseverance of the saints and God’s faithfulness to the people who were hunted down as early Christians must have encouraged this translator.” [Later in my stay, I received from a Kyrgyz friend of mine a translated copy of the Koran into Russian. I had always thought that it was sacrilege to have that book in any other language than in Arabic. They must have bent the rules on that for Central Asia. Not that I could read this translation any better than it was in the original text.]

The following is what I wrote on May 5, 1994:

I just celebrated Easter AGAIN in Almaty with my friend Tatyana [Kazanina].  The Russian Orthodox church has a different religious calendar which they follow. The main reason I went to Almaty was to visit with my other friend Ken. I went with him and another friend of his [he drove his Mercedes] to Kazakhstan’s “Grand Canyon.” It WAS beautiful but cold so we turned around and came back.  Before this trip to Almaty on the public bus (it took 4 ½ hours) I took another “trip.” Let me explain.

I walk everywhere in Bishkek since it a much smaller city than Almaty. But you really have to look where you are going because the sidewalks and streets are laden with potholes, cracks or other such traps.  When I saw the bus for Almaty pulling out of the bus station, I didn’t want to wait for another hour for the next one.  As a result, I sped up my pace and took my eyes off the sidewalk.  There was an inch pipe running from one little garden plot to the next.  That is what grabbed my right foot and propelled me to the pavement with a 30 pound backpack on my back.  I was in pain for the whole trip after that and that night while I stayed at my friend Tatyana’s place. It wasn’t until I got to Ken’s place the next morning where he had plenty of ice packs, that the pain eased.  My knee is better now, a week later, but it has ALL colors of the color chart throughout my leg…”

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Media doesn’t get it…personal testimony does

Today I’ll deviate from what I’ve been blogging about lately on human trafficking, I’ll take my readers to Iraq.  I have two American friends who are working in Baghdad right now. They are friends of mine since we lived in Kyiv, Ukraine. I’m not sure they have connected with each other yet but we have mutual friends, it’s a small world after all.  I’m glad we are Facebook friends because when I see their status updates, I know they are okay.  When I don’t, I worry that something may have gone very wrong with security. Baghdad has had several explosions lately.

All that above as an introduction to our speaker we heard today at our Rotary meeting. A retired army officer talked for a half hour about his military experiences in Iraq from 2005-2008, almost three years.  Col. Martin Breaker was in charge of detainee operations after the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal. He showed the four photos that went viral on the Internet and had more to do with putting Americans in harms way.  He in fact,  during his tenure as commanding officer, lost 17 soldiers under him. Always very sad.

I did not know, and maybe it was because I lived in Ukraine and never got the straight scoop, that it was American soldiers who had taken pictures of themselves in jail cells looking as if they were being tortured by Americans soldiers.  The Abu Ghraib abuse scandal the media took to the extreme and didn’t give out the true facts. Two photos were made to look like Iraqi “victims” with their arms extended as if hanging on a cross (black mask over the head and in a black gown) The other two photos had threatening black dogs snarling fiercely at frightened supposed “detainees.”

How did these photos appear to the insurgency in Iraq who were being propagandized to hate Americans?  Those two photos with extended arms were perceived as detainees being held at Abu Ghraib and tortured to become Christian. Anathema for those in this Muslim land of Iraq.  Did these American “jokers” also know how lethal the symbolic meaning of having black dogs as attack dogs?  We have our own superstitions about black cats but this was 100 times worse for any Iraqi civilian to see these photos.  Because Mohammed’s son was killed by a black wolf, the Iraqis are terrified of black dogs. It goes far beyond superstition but a real phobia.

In any case, the usual suspects (Americans who posted these photos on the Internet) were rounded up and sent off to serve their own time in prison back in the U.S.  I’m not sure that the media is ever penalized for aiding and abetting in not getting the accurate story out.  What I found out from personal testimony of Martin Breaker was these errant soldiers did not have good leadership at this detention camp. Also they had been trained to be M.P.s and not simply guards for detainees.  (the guards have non-lethal weapons with rubber bullets) Martin had to go in and clean up the mess and help befriend the Iraqi people who were scooped up for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. If there had been a bombing or a blast, all in the area were considered suspects.

Who were these detainees at Abu Ghraib? Often the insurgents would find those who are extremely poor and offer them $300 to do the dirty work for them.  Anything from digging ditches to setting off bombs.  In some cases, they had no choice. Marty gave one example where the terrorists came to a home packed with Iraqi people. When they refused to comply, they took the youngest girl outside and shot her dead. Then the terrorists came back into the house to get the expected cooperation they had been initially looking for.  Another case where there was a farmer living close to the 12 foot cement barriers surrounding the camp, he had a 16 year old daughter. The soldiers who were patrolling the camp would often throw over the wall some bottled water to give to the family.  Turns out the insurgents killed the daughter because she had talked to Americans.  Such is the hate of the terrorists for their own Iraqi people, think how much more they must hate the American soliders?

Martin’s job was to not only clean up the mess created by the Abu Ghraib photos that were used against Americans but to also get information from the Iraqis once they were befriended.  He wanted to marginalize their effectiveness as terrorists by showing that they cared about them. The average time spent at the camp was 18 months and at one point there were 60,000 people, mostly young men between the ages of 18-29. To adhere to Geneva Convention protocol, millions of dollars were spent to make sure they had three meals a day and clean water and also shoes on their feet.  Many Iraqis had never owned a pair of shoes before.  Their tents were air conditioned which was especially helpful when the temps in the summer would shoot up to 127 F degrees. Each person was provided a prayer mat and also a Koran if they could read it.  Some of them realized that they had been lied to about the good will of Americans.

Many of these poor people who had been abused by their own Iraqi government before and then were being terrorized by the insurgents, when they were processed into the detention camps some had very severe health issues.  Saddam Hussein had not helped his people and those considered wealthy were people who could afford medicine.  One problem when administering remedies for the high frequency of diabetes and T.B. was that people would hoard their medication and not take it.  Those in charge with the diagnosis had to make sure they would make themselves better and not try to sell the medication once released.  Those with T.B. were isolated for about six weeks from the rest of the camp.

What was their favorite thing to watch on t.v. or watching movies?  Mickey Mouse cartoons.  Were there women?  Yes there were some.  Also families were allowed to visit which boosted the morale of those detained.  Martin talked of one man who was being interrogated for information that might lead to better intelligence (no waterboarding was used). There was one old man for six months who would not talk, they dubbed him Mr. Mute. Once they got a woman officer who was 30 years younger to come in to ask him questions, all of a sudden he started talking and giving valuable info.  He continually asked her to marry him.  She, of course, had no interest but hey, whatever works.

I had asked if there were some who did NOT want to leave the detention centers.  Afterall, for some of the Iraqis, they had never been treated better or fed so well.  Martin had an answer where an older gentleman didn’t want to go back home because he had four wives that would be nagging him.

Martin also talked about the trial for Saddam Hussien which could take a whole ‘nother blog but suffice it to say that being in this madman’s presence was enough to know he was a psychopath.  Martin said it would be easy to imagine Saddam talking to two people, shoot the one person dead and continue to talk to the fortunate living person as if nothing had happened.  He complained of many things and once the verdict was found he was guilty, Saddam was released by Martin and the U.S. military into the hands of the Iraqi people. You know the rest of the story…

Martin ended his slide show with “Freedom is Never Free.” That can be true for any country, any time period.  Our American freedom was bought with a price, maintaining our freedom from two world wars meant great sacrifice.  I fear that we trivialize our freedoms and the Arab world is preying upon what we have. The use of terror was something that Stalin was adept at.  Btw, Saddam had his library full of books about Stalin, so he was taking his marching orders from a fellow madman.  I hope that my American friends stay safe in an environment that is very volatile.  I’m glad that Martin shared from his perspective what it was like to be in a place where he was shot at and threatened with mortars on a daily basis.

We have SOOO much to be thankful for and I believe we need to personally thank our servicemen and women who give up their family life and comfortable homes to do the dirty work for us, making our lives free and secure.

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Kazakh Teachers Reflect on Funny, Short Film Clips

After we had our guest speaker leave for another meeting, I gave my students (who are real, bona fide teachers) a chance to write down their thoughts about what Anne had just spoken about, while I set up the projector to watch short movies.  I wanted them to watch four funny videos (at least funny to me) clips to end our week on a good note.  First, I had them watch Longbranch (13 min) about a guy trying to commit suicide. (how can that be funny, you may ask? it ended well) However, here’s a poignant piece that one teacher wrote after viewing Longbranch:

“The number of committing suicide is increasing in Kazakhstan, especially among the teenagers.  Recently, “Khabar Agency” was broadcasting the accident similar to this clip.  It happened in Talgar at school #31 where two 16 year old students committed suicide and died.  Moreover, after that a 16 year old girl was saved while trying to commit suicide.  If something sad happens before committing suicide, they say this is an exact reason. In fact, it is not in Kazakh “Koran” is written that just the devil makes people commit it.  And it repeats several times until people commit it.  And if people commit suicide, it is sin and they are against the “Koran.” It is against the Islamic religion.”

Someone else wrote the following about “Longbranch” “To my mind, the moral of this film is that people must help and teach desparate or helpless people nearby.” Here’s another teacher’s perspective:

“It is a very educational clip.  We can show it to our pupils.  I think it has the following meaning:  “When a pupil lets the other pupil copy the answers, it is not a real help.  But if he helps him to find the answer on his own, it is much more complicated but more helpful and meaningful.”

Next, we watched “Not Evelyn Cho” that ran almost 10 minutes, which elicited a funny story from one of the teachers.  The single teachers paid attention to what she had to say about her successful strategy in meeting her husband:

“When I was 19 years old, young and beautiful teacher at the old village school, where English was opened first by me.  I was active and with full of energy teaching my students.  I taught my husband’s younger brother named Azamat.  But at that time I wasn’t married, I just dreamed to find my future love. Once on the way back home I met a handsome boy who was staring at me and smiling.  And I saw him every day at the same time at the same place.  I bought beautiful clothes to wear to attract his attention more.  Some time later when I found out that he was my student’s older brother (Azamat), I organized an interesting lesson for the students who studied with Azamat.  It was like a lesson connected with questionnaire.  Via some questions made by me, I had an opportunity to know my husband well before getting married.  I advise all young girls always to play it by ear whenever it happens to their future life.  Grab your love immediately, until someone does it.”

One other pragmatic teacher, who is married wrote this after watching “Not Evelyn Cho”

“Such a pity that she didn’t get him and they didn’t live ‘happily ever after.’  But it is almost always in the world. I have many male friends, they are handsome, gentle, kind, brave, well-educated, honest (ideal) but they have girlfriends and they love them very much and they are devoted to them!  Nowadays, it is difficult to find a good man/manly man, so to say, and if you find one, he is already taken by someone else! (;-(

Then we watched my favorite “Mutual Love Life” that is over 10 minutes.  This was a real eye opener for me because it is a hyperbole on our necessity to have insurance in the U.S. for almost everything.  Half of my students didn’t really understand the humor of it all.

One student who DID understand the plot of “Mutual Love Life” wrote the following:

“In our country [Kazakhstan] most people don’t know about the usefulness of insurance yet, so maybe that’s why the students in my group don’t understand at once the film.  I like this film, especially the moment when Dan loses the girl and money while Sarah gets insurance for her next relationship, that’s the funniest part.”

The real eye-opener for me is that Kazakhs really don’t know the expenses we as westerners continue to pay when we leave our comforts of home in the U.S.  My husband and I still have to pay for health, life, home, car insurance even when we are NOT living in the U.S.  That ALL adds up, not to mention the property taxes and other taxes we pay to be a U.S. citizen. Plus, in order to teach in Kazakhstan, we have to pay for expensive airfares, visa fees and now that we are here we pay for our rent as well. Soooo….this was very interesting that what I thought was funny was not understood by my Kazakh students at all.  There is no such thing as insurance for a broken heart.  This is what summed up the third film:

“Nowadays, people are so materialistic, they think about everything which can damage and so sign insurance.  But love is not a property, we cannot control our feelings and emotions.  It is not predictable.  I don’t like a man who wanted to be ruler of woman’s life.  He was looking for benefits and lost everything.” (;-(

(Fourth film reflections to be continued tomorrow)

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Troubling News: Digital Age Plagiarism

Plagiarism is nothing new, especially for this writing teacher who can spot it a mile away. The key to early detection is to have students do a lot of “in-class” writing. Then you can easily discover when they submit other hard copy assignments, why they did such a stellar job. is also another quick way to find out when the student might have copied some quotes that are not their own words.

I remember one “student” of mine in Ukraine who was a lazy, black leather jacket guy enamored by his cell phone handed in a “funny” essay.  He didn’t mean for it to be hilarious and he certainly wasn’t laughing when he got his final grade from me.  But this one paper was a piece his girlfriend had written.  This character hadn’t even bothered to change the wording of when she was a little girl, she loved to figure skate. If he had just improved the “little girl” part I still might have wondered why he would love to “figure skate.” Where I’m from in Minnesota, guys play hockey they do NOT figure skate!

I think since these students who plagiarize don’t bother to read much, they figure their writing teachers don’t read their incoming assignments either.  Therefore, I read with great interest a recent New York Times article on this very topic of the digital age and what to make of this age old problem of plagiarism.  This article titled: “Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age” written by Trip Gabriel, had some good examples given by researchers on this sticky topic.

Thankfully Susan D. Blum, an anthropologist at Notre Dame has written a book on this important topic, published by Cornell University Press titled: “My Word!: Plagiarism and College Culture.” In her ethnographic research of  234 Notre Dame undergraduates she wrote:

“Today’s students stand at the crossroads of a new way of conceiving texts and the people who create them and who quote them.” She went on… “the idea of an author whose singular effort creates an original work is rooted in Enlightenment ideas of the individual. It is buttressed by the Western concept of intellectual property rights as secured by copyright law. But both traditions are being challenged.”

“Our notion of authorship and originality was born, it flourished, and it may be waning,” Ms. Blum said.

According to Times author, Trip Gabriel, ‘Ms. Blum contends that undergraduates are less interested in cultivating a unique and authentic identity — as their 1960s counterparts were — than in trying on many different personas, which the Web enables with social networking.'”

Respondents to surveys who believe plagiarism should be considered “serious cheating” by lifting words off the web has dropped from 34 percent to 29 percent on average in the past decade, according to the New York Times article.  I have my own theory as to why this may be true that no anthropologist would dare touch.

I believe the more people who are turned off by church and using the Bible as a text to be referenced, the less you have people taking the time in giving proper attribution to where they find their sources.  In other words, days of old you had people who wrote in lofty, well thought out script, they also adhered to the Bible as being the true Word of God.  If one does not tamper with His Word, you probably won’t be messing with other people’s words either.

I’m wondering what Muslim countries do about getting their ardent students to refer back to the Koran as a way to prove a point.  Do their holy teachers instill in their young students to reference the Koran by giving proper references? [Christians always want to know the “street address” of where something was quoted from. For example, look up Jeremiah 29:11]  I doubt it, but then I’m walking into very murky territory. Again, I don’t know much about the Koran and if it is held up as holy text the same way the Bible is by true believers of Christianity. I’d have to say that the people in Kazakhstan only have a superficial knowledge of what is in the Koran.

My main point is that the western world has moved away from using the Bible as a text to adhere to or to gain instruction from.  The deconstructionism and the postmodern era has done a number on many of the words we held on to for dear life.  Why on earth would other universities from developing countries want to emulate what we have going on at our western universities if we have western professors who make a living tearing down words we held as true? Most specifically, does our new university in Astana want to follow the western traditional practices of originality or follow the path of “anything goes,” take what you can off of the 21st century Internet writings?

Troubling problems to deal with…stay tuned.

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Kyrgyzstan – Snatches of news from my Bishkek friends

You know you are reporting the truth about Kyrgyzstan events when you can’t even get certain social networking mediums to publish your blog.  You know your blog is effective in getting the word out when the powers that be shut you down temporarily. For example, I unsuccessfully tried to access an American friend’s blog, he teaches at the westernized university in Bishkek.  He earlier reported that he couldn’t access his bank account after the “revolution” and may have lost over a thousand dollars.  He claimed his bank wouldn’t give funds to people until 3-6 months from now.  He knows it is gone for good.  So today I can’t get to his blog to quote him exactly as to what he is experiencing.  Revolutions hurt everyone. However, I have two other friends I’m quoting snatches from their up close experience with the un-Tulip like revolution last week.  The following is from a dear, young Kyrgyz friend of mine.  She wrote what her Kyrgyz family went though while she was in the U.S. at the time:

“Mom is good. It was a pretty terrifying experience for them and for me being worried about them those 2 days…So, they could hear all the shootings and screaming. It was pretty scary. But things are back to normal they said. Mom was quite worried about the fear of civil war. But I am tremendously relieved to see Ms. Rosa Otunbaeva as the head. I believe in her. And today, Bakiev left the country and officially resigned! Such a relief. Now the country can start focusing on the real work on hands – development of the country economically and democratically.”

From another American friend on the ground in Bishkek what he wrote recently:

Times of crisis bring times of opportunity….Although the tragic events of the past week have brought much instability to the people of Kyrgyzstan, as well as much worry to the nations surrounding Kyrgyzstan, it has been amazing to see the opportunities which are opening up before us. 

Besides the visits to the hospitals, of which I have already written, on Tuesday we had the opportunity to join together and help clean up the city. Citizens, businesses, and government offices in Bishkek are attempting to replace glass, restore goods, and rebuild trust…

I have had several conversations with people on the street who are both hopeful and yet afraid. Will the next government be the same (i.e. greedy, dictatorial, etc.) as the previous ones? In some Kyrgyz I see more hope and healing now than I have ever seen. In other Kyrgyz people I see, as before the uprising, despondency and distrust.

Yesterday, seeing my hope for this nation, Arafat, my neighbor, was quoting the Koran to me and saying that the only thing that can deal with the nature of people (their greed and deceit) is dirt – meaning the grave.

Last night I had the opportunity to talk for three hours with an official in the new government. He is advisor to one of the three main opposition leaders. It was amazing to hear of his hope for his nation as we talked about the problems of security, corruption, the rule of law, and society as a whole. There exist possibilities now which, up until this time, have never existed before. Will it be a short romance with idealism or will things stabilize enough in this country for these ideas to become a reality?

 I guess President Medvedev in Russia keeps focusing on the present instability which exists in Kyrgyzstan and warning of the possibility of civil war. Perhaps certain international players would benefit from a civil war here (since then Russia would have a reason to come in and put in their own puppet government)…

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Aizhan’s Grandmother Taught in “Country No. 5”

It was in 1951. One young beautiful woman arrived to Uzbekistan from Russia. Exactly, from the Molotychi country. It is related to Kursk region. After graduating from training college she was sent to another country that doesn’t have a name in order to teach children. It was called “The Country № 5”.This brave woman’s name was Valentine. She worked and lived in school. And she met a pioneer guide there. He was the only person who spoke in Russian. It was my grandfather from my mother’s side. His name is Sahtash Hozhabergenov. And he is still alive.

Like my grandmother, he is a teacher. He worked as a teacher for 41 years. Also, he was a director of the “Pioneer’s Home”. Actually, he dreamed about theater because he wanted to be an actor. Anyway, my grandfather has a many hobbies. He plays all the types of stringed instruments. He liked to waltz with my grandmother and he called her “Frenchwoman” because she had curly, white blonde, had a light blue eyes. Amazing woman. Also, he paints very well. Especially, portraits and, very interesting, arms and flags of 15 Union republics on the red silk. I’m so proud of him when I’m writing all of it now. I didn’t live with him. Usually, he came to visit us to Almaty. But it wasn’t for long, maximum was three-four days. Unfortunately, I really don’t know him so much.

But I haven’t finished his story. My grandfather also was a hunter. One day, it was February when he came to home all icy. How did it happen? While hunting for fish, he fell down into the awfully cold water. So, all family beat off the ice on him. But the main thing is that this action was in a cold corridor. If you know, it wasn’t allowed be in a warm home, when you are so cold. He is a human who loves life, writes poetry and sings. He was grateful for the destiny of having children. They are four: Nurtas, Nurhat, my mother Galina and Sergei.

My grandmother Valya, (that’s how we called her) died in 1993. She had a cancer of lungs. After her death grandfather didn’t get married again. He still loves her. He says in Kazakh: “Кемпір үйді балалармен толтырып кетті”. In English it means: “Old woman fills the house with children and gone”. He cared for her seven years, so strong she was. For all of us she is a heroine. Seven years she struggled against the cancer. For life. Anyway, she is a winner. I love her so much. You know, I don’t speak Kazakh very good. All my relatives are Kazakh. I love them too. But I so deeply feel the Russian inside of me. I am proud of what I know, really know Russian language. One of the richest languages around the world. And I definitely know that we (I with my grandmother Valya) could be very close.

Now grandfather is blind. But, as I mention he loves life. And how he says for himself: “I wasn’t a communist, I don’t read a namaz, but I am Muslim”. He reads the Koran and believes in God. The Nurhat’s family lives with and care for him.


P.S. All grandfathers and grandmother’s personal information was given to me by my mother.

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